Even if you haven't Monte Pittman's name, chances are pretty good you've heard his music, as his mighty axe has swung through dozens of hit albums. He's played on nearly all of Madonna's records and tours since 2001, he co-wrote several songs on Prong's acclaimed albums Scorpio Rising and Power of the Damager, and his solo project Pain, Love & Destiny scored high on the charts, nabbing him several awards and nominations of his own. After spending many successful years in the indie rock and pop arena, Pittman has finally returned to his metal roots with the follow-up release The Power of Three – a dark and heavy project that finds him teaming up with another metal legend: Grammy-winning producer Flemming Rasmussen, best known for his contributions to Metallica's ...And Justice for All and Master of Puppets. The result is a feast of death, darkness and anguish that's unlike anything the artist has dished up before.
As a fan of Pittman's work with Prong (not only co-writing with Tommy Victor, he also provided guitar, bass and vocals on several tracks), I was stoked to learn he was returning to the hard rock & metal fold. Interestingly enough, he doesn't cast his pop years aside, but instead brings that experience aboard, incorporating many of those structures and styles into his songwriting and performance, ably assisted by bassist Max Whipple and drummer Kane Ritchotte. Thankfully, the pop elements don't steal the potency of the riffs he serves up in "A Dark Horse," the opening track and lead single, which begins with a spooky acoustic passage before tearing loose with old-school thrash fury, Metallica-style. But it's on the epic "Before the Mourning Son" that Pittman truly comes into his own. His style has been compared to Zack Wylde (and there's definitely a Black Label Society vibe going on here), but his personal stamp is much more evident on this one, with a wide-open, soaring quality that makes it one of the album's most memorable cuts. The vocal harmonies, while well-constructed, don't always gel completely for me – but I really don't mind, because this one's all about the King Kong riffage.
While these songs are tailor-made for the arena, there's an intimacy that draws on the best elements of grunge and post-grunge; if you ever wondered what a team-up of Foo Fighters and Alice in Chains might sound like, go no further than "Everything's Undone” and "Away from Here," which have the warm pop sensibility and sweet choruses of the former and the intensely doomed edge of the latter, while "Blood Hungry Thirst" calls to mind mid-period Soundgarden (to my ears, Pittman's vocals feel smoothest and warmest in the range of SG's Chris Cornell). There are a few small stumbles (the vocals of "Delusions of Grandeur" seem too lightweight for the relentless whiplash tempo, and “On My Mind” never seems to find its momentum), but they're minor speed-bumps on an otherwise smooth highway. The journey concludes with the mammoth closer "All Is Fair in Love and War," clocking in at over thirteen minutes and racing madly through a multitude of genres, styles and tempos. It might be a bit lengthier than it needs to be, but the ever-mutating sonic landscape and extended-jam vibe, with indelible hooks surfacing throughout (and a few scary surprises), ensures there's never a dull moment.
Again, you may not yet know Monte by name, but you'll remember him well after giving The Power of Three a spin. Dark and brooding, yet consistently catchy and ultimately uplifting, it's a Jekyll & Hyde creature that grows stronger than its (seemingly) opposing personalities – and it's also one of the biggest-sounding productions I've heard from a three-piece outfit in quite a while. I'm glad Pittman decided to pick up the heavy weaponry once again, and like the underworld guide Charon depicted on the album cover, he clearly knows his way through the darkest realms.